Two custodial deaths in a span of eight days in Meghalaya’s Garo Hills region sent shock waves among rights groups in the region, with the authorities immediately announcing a magisterial inquiry into both the incidents.
While one Witson M Sangma (28), suspected to be an activist of the outlawed Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) died in the Chokpot police station in South Garo Hills on Tuesday, an undertrial prisoner called Balsan Marak (20) died while he was undergoing treatment in the Tura Civil Hospital in West Garo Hills district on May 20.
“Sangma was arrested in connection with the recovery of two IEDs at a place under Chokpot police station. When he was in the lock-up, he complained of hypertension and unease. A doctor was called, but he passed away even before any treatment could be started,” C P Gotmare, deputy commissioner of South Garo Hills, told The Indian Express on Thusrday. A magisterial inquiry has already been instituted, Gotmare added.
Following the incident, a crowd gathered outside the Chokpot police station shouting slogans against police over the custodial death, prompting authorities to promulgate Section 144 of the CrPC in the police station area, Gotmare further said.
Marak was arrested on May 13 in connection with the alleged illegal confinement and torture of 12 women by some self-proclaimed activities in the district. He is incidentally a younger brother of Rophul S Marak, an independent MLA from Rongara-Siju in South Garo Hills district.
Some rights groups, however, have refused take the police version on face value. “Police must have manipulated the medical reports to get away with the custodial death,” alleged Agnes Kharshiing of the Shillong-based Civil Society Women’s Organisation. Kharshiing has also appealed to the Meghalaya High Court to take up a suo motu case on the matter. The Garo Students’ Union and Federation of Khasi Jaintia and Garo Peoples, on the other hand, have called a bandh in the Garo Hills region on June 2 demanding a CBI inquiry.
Also, an incident of alleged custodial torture in Jorhat district of Assam last month has attracted attention of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).